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The Servant Economy (theatlantic.com)
128 points by webappsecperson 18 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 133 comments



It's interesting to consider the gig economy as a reversion to the class-stratified social order that prevailed throughout so much of history. From that perspective, it's the last seven or eight decades that are particularly strange and deserving of study, and not the reemergence of a servant class.


Servants for the rich never went away. What's new is the concept of easily summoned single-task servants for the middle class: now anybody with a phone and a bit of spare money can delegate tasks, and the people fulfilling those tasks lack even the basic job security of having a steady employer.

All that said, I do find the article's use of "servant" somewhat demeaning. Is a self-employed tradesman like a plumber a "servant"? How about a freelance software developer? Where do you draw the line?


why is this special? every time to eat out I'm paying someone to make a meal for me instead of making it myself. I pay the delivery person to get my package to me rather than drive myself to the manufacturer. I pay people to make furniture for me rather than building it myself although I did help my dad build some in the past. I pay an accountant to do my taxes instead of doing them myself. I pay people to make clothing even though my mom used to make clothes.

what's special about Lyft drivers to Uber Eats? seems like absolutely nothing


>why is this special? every time to eat out I'm paying someone to make a meal for me instead of making it myself.

You don't just order a person waiting for orders to cook you a meal special for you, though, and have their daily income depend on whether you ordered or not. That was a problem restaurant owners had -- which was part of the "risk" in being an entrepreneur.

Cooks weren't paid per meal (door-to-door salesmen were paid in commission, musicians might been paid for gigs, etc, but that was the exception not the rule -- working gig per gig was a thing for hobos during the Great Depression). Now this model is getting more widespread ("gig economy").


Everyone works on commission. If you don’t believe me, try not showing up for a few days. An employee’s stable, dependable paycheck is a comforting illusion. When hungry diners abandon a certain restaurant, the cook finds herself unemployed.

Not sure whether you intended to use scare quotes around risk or asterisks for emphasis. The entrepreneur’s role is coordinating present production with future demand and placing real-money bets accordingly. That’s no freebie.


>Everyone works on commission. If you don’t believe me, try not showing up for a few days.

You keep using this word, commission. I don't think it means what you think it means.

Yes, job's are not for life, and if a business goes under, or if you don't show up, etc, you will get let off/fired.

That's not the same as a "per gig" payment.

>An employee’s stable, dependable paycheck is a comforting illusion.

Well, in many places in the world, it's a concrete reality, protected by law. You can't get fired without notice (and in some places, serious cause), you're given several months pay if you're laid off, and you have legal right to your payment as long as you're employed whether the company has business that day or not (e.g. an off day or week at a restaurant).

With a "gig economy" workers, none of these guarantees exists.

They're more like freelancers with very small contracts.


FWIW, fewer businesses are started per capita in those countries and they grow slowly, too.


One distinction I could think of is that some of these tasks require intensive training in some field to get the desired outcome (I wouldn't want to sit on the crappy chairs I'd probably make myself), while others can be performed by basically anyone no matter their education.


If you reread the comment you replied to, here's what's "special" about them:

single-task servants for the middle class: (...) the people fulfilling those tasks lack even the basic job security of having a steady employer


Servants used to be common for the middle class too.

Didn't Agatha Christie say something like: "I never thought I would be so poor as to not have staff, or so rich as to have an automobile."


it's worth asking what the word servant even means/connotes. a first-rate butler can make $100k or more. if you have a well-paid butler working for a single household, a low wage house cleaner who cleans many different homes, a salaried web dev, and a freelance web dev, which members of the group would you describe as "servants"? does it matter if the butler makes more money than the devs?


I don' think that is a terribly good example to bring up. While there are certainly a small number of well paid butlers, there is a veritable army of contract cleaners who roam our offices and homes during the night and day. Most of them are making in the vicinity of minimum wage. I'm not sure if servant is the right word for them, but gosh it seems unfair just how badly paid they are.


The economist must consider both the seen and the unseen.

Let’s say a $15 minimum wage for custodians is instituted. Sure, it’s great for the “lucky” ones who remain employed. A moment’s reflection shows they aren’t lucky at all: they’re going to be the most productive of the bunch and not selected at random. This policy, allegedly put into place in the name of fairness, is decidedly unfair to people (for example young, inexperienced, or disabled) whose hourly productivity lies between the arbitrary minimum and consumers’ actual demand, or to the staff at the place of business who just picked up additional “other duties as assigned” because cleaning services just got so expensive.

Competing on price for low-skill work that anyone can walk in off the street and do (that is, lots of competition) is a terrible strategy compared to competing on quality. Think: “Acme Cleaners, where all our employees have passed multiple background checks.”


> The unicorns have taken huge sums of money: on average, $1 billion in venture funding each.

A sure-fire way to become a unicorn: raise $1B in VC. You're instantly worth a billion dollars, just based on your bank account.


Some people are calling those "minotaurs" now, apparently: https://www.axios.com/minotaurs-companies-raised-more-than-1...


Sell one billionth of your company for $1. Much easier.


If you're really clever you could go into the round with a negative balance sheet.


Anyone who has lived or is living in a foreign country, and doesn't speak the language, appreciates the presence (or lack thereof) of these services. I know I do. Without even considering that there are people who get very anxious talking on the phone, for whom these are often a life saver.

Where I live now there is no Uber but there is no app for taxis either. You have to call a number, be able to speak Spanish, wait 3-5 minutes and then they'll tell you the ID of the taxi, which you have to remember. If anything goes wrong the taxi driver has to call the station which in turn will call you and try to figure out where you are.

Sorry but screw that!


There will be a private driver system in that country. Ask someone local you trust, they can give you the name of a driver who speaks english (or enough of it) and you can book them ahead when needed. It's like Uber for Uber, but old-school pre-app style. As it's been done for centuries.


"Ask someone local you trust" already assumes you've been there for enough time to know and befriend some local, which is almost never the case, for frequent travellers, plus "private" (more often than not unlicensed) drivers usually charge a ton more. Direct experience in multiple places.

Economically wealthy but time poor --> customer

Economically poor but time rich --> servant

Serfdom 2.0 Ladies and Gentlemen


Economically poor AND time poor --> high-efficiency and optimal return for capital!

Remember kids, like Adam Smith said: in an efficient and competitive market, the price of a good or service falls to the cost of production.

If you believe him, what does that mean for labor?


A serf's cost of production has always been a wage just high enough to raise a family.

But today we have below replacement fertility in the West- finally some progress!


Go Read om tre wealth of nations, he explores that topic. You will find hvis predictions were all wrong.


> If you believe him, what does that mean for labor?

It means you are fairly compensated for your work and you pay fair prices for the product of other people's work.


I think it means there are a lot of jobs not worth doing but the worker doesn't know it's putting them in decline or the decline is better than the alternative. I do not think being paid below a living wage should be refered to as fair under any circumstances.


I'm talking about a fair price. Wages are prices. A fair price is one that both parties agree to. Curiously, many people work for free. Is that unfair?

I'm not talking about fairness in terms of equality. People are not equal in terms of economic value they never will be. Indeed, some people have no better choice than accept a job that pays less than a living wage. Would you deny them that possibility by mandating that every job needs to pay a living wage? Isn't that unfair?


>A fair price is one that both parties agree to.

There's this lovely fiction in law that contracts should be upheld because two consenting parties both get ahead by reaching a bargain. All transactions are positive, so we should uphold bargains as a default. Super duper.

But then history gave us a ton of examples of contracts which are negotiated in the context of a power or informational asymmetry. Boo.

Contracts for labour are predominantly contracts which are negotiated in the context of power and informational asymmetries, which is why developed nations have backstopping legislation to prevent wholesale abuse.

I guess your original statement being untenable forced you to redefine fair to mean 'whatever they agreed to' which is tautological. Yes, the agreements will be what was agreed to, but does that actually address the post you were replying to?


You accused someone else of brandishing tautology after having written a few sentences previous

But then history gave us a ton of examples of contracts which are negotiated in the context of a power or informational asymmetry …

No two people or entities possess the exact same information. You don’t define how you’re using power. Every transaction can be said to have these asymmetries, a tautological characterization that happens to be a bogeyman from cultural Marxism.

Voluntarily agreed contracts, in contrast, are a distinct and thus helpful category. Seeing as much does require the realization that some contracts’ terms are rejected and consequently never become agreements.


I don't think you know what a tautology is. Me making an argument you don't like isn't tautological.

Basic contract theory requires A. A is not always true. Accordingly, we modulate applying basic contract theory on the basis of how true A is. When A is not true, we don't apply it.

This applies in respect of large M&A deals as well as in respect of labour law. Making transactions work better requires us to understand when transactions work well and when they don't.


> But then history gave us a ton of examples of contracts which are negotiated in the context of a power or informational asymmetry. Boo.

If there's a power difference to the point of coercion, it's coercion and one party is not consenting. Otherwise, it's still fair. Of course a company is "more powerful" than an individual. Still, a company cannot coerce you into working for them specifically.

As for informational asymmetry, that is part of trade. The time you spend on getting quotes is opportunity cost. It goes both ways, too. If you're selling labor, your employer has no way of knowing whether you're as competent or productive as you appear. There's nothing inherently unfair here.

Of course, there's a point at which informational asymmetry turns to outright fraud. Again, at that point there is no real consent.

> Contracts for labour are predominantly contracts which are negotiated in the context of power and informational asymmetries, which is why developed nations have backstopping legislation to prevent wholesale abuse.

Such as? Last I checked, nothing stops me from offering cheap junk for a ridiculous sum of money, nor is there a law preventing me from attempting to hire workers well below market rate.

There are some political attempts at price fixing (such as minimum wage), but they generally don't work. They're either so loose as to have practically no effect or they cause shortages/unemployment.


>If there's a power difference to the point of coercion, it's coercion and one party is not consenting. [...] Of course, there's a point at which informational asymmetry turns to outright fraud.

Yes, coercion and fraud are bad, but you'll note that you're indicating that the quality of consent appears to be on a sliding scale from 'we're reaching a real agreement between well informed equals that stand to benefit from a transaction' to 'an unsophisticated economically distressed person is forced into taking a poisoned deal'.

Yes, the law recognizes that not everyone is sitting firmly on the 'ideal contract' side of things, which is why in areas where there are systematic issues, it modifies the way the contracts work.

>Such as? Last I checked, nothing stops me from offering cheap junk for a ridiculous sum of money, nor is there a law preventing me from attempting to hire workers well below market rate.

Perhaps you don't believe labour standards, collective bargaining rules, minimum wage, and other pro-worker laws exist, but they do.

If you want to know more about the specific frameworks that exist in your jurisdiction, you can just look up any employment law digest that covers your area. If you're an employer most jurisdictions have 'employer community' circulars that contain employment law related briefs in a short newsletter format that tell you things like "Don't sexually abuse your workers" and "Don't let your workers collect evidence that you pinch secretary ass regularly".

In fact, if you're in the civilian legal world, the entire field of nominate contracts is essentially the legal community fixing systemic problems associated with different fields of contract, one by one.

Maybe you hate labour laws specifically, and want to ignore the idea that 'contracts as an idea can be gamed'. Take a look at the SEC, then. They perform the exact same function, but for wealthy investors. Do you hate them too? Are you upset you can't release yet another vaporware ICO to fleece a few hundred crypto hopefuls? I really hope not.


> an unsophisticated economically distressed person is forced into taking a poisoned deal

Forced by what? By their personal situation? Even in this case, both sides stand to benefit. Any better hypothetical deal simply isn't on the table. That person still has the choice not to take the deal or to try and find another deal.

> Perhaps you don't believe labour standards, collective bargaining rules, minimum wage, and other pro-worker laws exist, but they do.

Indeed, there is always and at any time a great deal of lawmaking and lobbying underway to regulate things that presumably need regulation. This in itself is not proof that the market mechanism needs such regulation.

I already dealt with minimum wage, it's price fixing and it doesn't work.

Collective bargaining (like any bargaining) requires no laws, it is a natural right. You are right insofar as that there are some anti-discrimination laws in place presumably protecting union workers.

Safety standards are an interesting topic. Last I heard, there's no law forcing employers to publish statistics on accidents, to properly inform the laborer on the risk they are taking. They're expected to trust "safety standards" set by the government and (presumably) checked by the government. Yet they fully bear the risk of their job. They are responsible for themselves. They can and must refuse to perform an action that they deem is endangering themselves unduly.

In any event, you are dragging in a lot of stuff that goes beyond "a trade" and into labor law. Labor isn't "one transaction" that could be deemed fair or unfair. The terms are re-evaluated constantly and if there is a disagreement, either parties can terminate.

> Take a look at the SEC, then. They perform the exact same function, but for wealthy investors. Do you hate them too?

You can drop your "hate" allegations, please. Insofar as we are talking about regulating fraud, it is fine. Insofar as we are talking about being the nanny for foolish investors to not make foolish investments, it is unwarranted.


There's a lot in here that I don't really have the time to address because I'm wrapping up my day, but I don't really feel the need to litigate reasons why radical unfettered libertarianism doesn't work. But hey, I'll toss out a few notes:

>Collective bargaining (like any bargaining) requires no laws, it is a natural right.

No it isn't, because absent laws people tend to do things like break your knees with a lead pipe if you're a union organizer.

Which happened in the states. All the time. Until the union organizers hired the mob to defend them, resulting in the teamsters running a number of unions like a racket.

No thanks. I don't like any of that.

>Safety standards are an interesting topic. Last I heard, there's no law forcing employers to publish statistics on accidents, to properly inform the laborer on the risk they are taking. They're expected to trust "safety standards" set by the government and (presumably) checked by the government. Yet they fully bear the risk of their job. They are responsible for themselves. They can and must refuse to perform an action that they deem is endangering themselves unduly.

1) Who are "They"? 2) So you agree there's an informational asymmetry, but you put the burden on the weaker party in the transaction to be responsible for the calculation of the costs and effects of it (despite agreeing they don't know as much about it). 3) You should look up OSHA. Lol.

Are we starting to understand how that allocation of responsibilities, along the axis of 'who has power here', results in sub-optimal procedures for mitigating risk? Or did you expect everyone who works in a factory to have a triple PhD in materials engineering, industrial chemical design and ergonomics, so that when a piece of warehouse scaffolding is stressed because it is loaded past it's specs, they can diagnose the defect through examined differences in metal spalling patterns, then inform their employer and not be censured for the act (because, remember, according to you we shouldn't have labour standards).

Again, no thank you. I'd rather have society put together so that people don't need to be an expert in every safety critical expertise in order to avoid harm from others.


> radical unfettered libertarianism doesn't work

I agree.

> No it isn't, because absent laws people tend to do things like break your knees with a lead pipe if you're a union organizer.

You keep dragging things out further and further. Am I led to believe that without laws supporting unions, breaking knees suddenly becomes legal?

> So you agree there's an informational asymmetry, but you put the burden on the weaker party in the transaction to be responsible for the calculation of the costs and effects of it (despite agreeing they don't know as much about it)

I'm not putting the burden on them. The burden is on them, as a pure matter of fact. Every worker is ultimately responsible for the risk they put upon themselves. If they get injured or killed, they are the ones harmed. They're the ones who have to make the call.

Of course an employer that hides information on safety hazards or is otherwise negligent is liable for endangering others.

None of this is specific to trade. You're talking about fraud, coercion and extortion and all kinds of things. It's going nowhere. Of course nobody willfully "consents" to being endangered, defrauded or extorted.

> Again, no thank you. I'd rather have society put together so that people don't need to be an expert in every safety critical expertise in order to avoid harm from others.

You arguing against straw man libertarian, not me.


I had a big issue with glaring contradictions in your position until I re-read your series of posts. I've come to recognize you're conflating multiple related 'responsibility' concepts, swapping into the different modes when it's convenient. It's very similar to how you treated the term 'fair' earlier on. This is a common argument pattern for people who like winning pitched arguments against inexperienced individuals.

Your statements regarding legal responsibility, which is what you were critiquing (remember we're talking about contracts!), are all VERY wrong. But a lay person strolling through the thread wouldn't know it, so maybe your argument seems plausible. Half the time, though, you're not making a 'legal responsibility' argument but rather a 'moral responsibility' argument. The is/ought dichotomy exists, and is a common place where people get tripped up when discussing law.

The rest of the discussion isn't really worth having given that core miscommunication. That said...

>You arguing against straw man libertarian, not me.

You literally doubled down on the same position for three paragraphs in the very same post. lol


> I've come to recognize you're conflating multiple related 'responsibility' concepts, swapping into the different modes when it's convenient. It's very similar to how you treated the term 'fair' earlier on.

Can you accept that words don't all have one meaning? Maybe you willfully misunderstand what people are saying so that you can win a debate that you started, on your terms? I don't care about "winning" a debate with you. Nobody else is reading this, it's just you and me.

> Your statements regarding legal responsibility...

See, I never made a statement about legal responsibility. You want to talk about legality and law and power and justice and morality. I'm talking about fair market prices.

Of course "fair market prices" aren't going to be "fair" at every possible level of analysis, under every moral framework, in every single instance in the history of mankind.

For you, it's all power games and injustice and exploitation. For me, it's people cooperating voluntarily without centralized control. In my eyes, it all works pretty well. In your eyes, it doesn't and it all needs regulation and intervention. We're not convincing each other otherwise.


He might differ:

Though the wealth of a country should be very great, yet if it has been long stationary, we must not expect to find the wages of labour very high in it. The funds destined for the payment of wages, the revenue and stock of its inhabitants, may be of the greatest extent; but if they have continued for several centuries of the same, or very nearly of the same extent, the number of labourers employed every year could easily supply, and even more than supply, the number wanted the following year. There could seldom be any scarcity of hands, nor could the masters be obliged to bid against one another in order to get them. The hands, on the contrary, would, in this case, naturally multiply beyond their employment. There would be a constant scarcity of employment, and the labourers would be obliged to bid against one another in order to get it. If in such a country the wages of labour had ever been more than sufficient to maintain the labourer, and to enable him to bring up a family, the competition of the labourers and the interest of the masters would soon reduce them to this lowest rate which is consistent with common humanity....

But it would be otherwise in a country where the funds destined for the maintenance of labour were sensibly decaying. Every year the demand for servants and labourers would, in all the different classes of employments, be less than it had been the year before. Many who had been bred in the superior classes, not being able to find employment in their own business, would be glad to seek it in the lowest. The lowest class being not only overstocked with its own workmen, but with the overflowings of all the other classes, the competition for employment would be so great in it, as to reduce the wages of labour to the most miserable and scanty subsistence of the labourer. Many would not be able to find employment even upon these hard terms, but would either starve, or be driven to seek a subsistence either by begging, or by the perpetration perhaps of the greatest enormities. Want, famine, and mortality would immediately prevail in that class, and from thence extend themselves to all the superior classes....

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Wealth_of_Nations/Book_I/...


No difference.

A fair price doesn't imply "good" or "enough to live off". Ultimately, only so many people can live off a finite amount of land. The amount of labor regulates itself as well (i.e. less children are born).


Smith explicitly disagrees:

A man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more; otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a family, and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation.

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Wealth_of_Nations/Book_I/...

Smith also writes at length of the power imbalance between business owners and employers, who can and do collude to keep down labour wages, whilst labour has far less power (and in his time, no legal right) to organise to raise them. Of the inherent inequality and dangers of piecework pay. And of the differential returns to various economic goods and activities, particularly wages, commodities, rents, interest, assets (to Smith, gold and silver), and public goods. More recent economic understanding is that the marginal cost / marginal price, and differential risk / consequence dynamics of such interactions provide distinct behaviours and advantages to specific powers. The inherent imbalance between wages (tending to subsitence, or below) and rents (tending to all consumer surplus for the producer), create an inherent conflict.

Then there are the problems of corporate ownership and behaviour (roundly criticised by Smith in the form of join stock companies), the corporatisation of violence ("Regulated companies, it was observed by Sir Josiah Child, though they had frequently supported public ministers, had never maintained any forts or garrisons in the countries to which they traded; whereas joint stock companies frequently had", and general collusion of commercial interests against those of the common weal.

The passage I'd previously cited ties wages largely to economic growth, stagnation, or decline, and the story it paints is both stark and well worth consideration.


Look, this just doesn't disagree with what a "fair price" is. If "a man must live by his work" but the market doesn't afford it to him, then indeed "the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation". That means this kind of worker goes extinct, as many professions have in the past.

I'm well aware that Smith on occasion argues for protectionism to "smooth out" that extinction process. That's welfare. It has no bearing on fair prices in free trade.


But all too often the resources to pay a living wage exist but the market has been manipulated such that the labourer won't be able to claim that.

Which is a great deal of what Smith discusses.

And no, it's not welfare. It's balancing political power.

Because, "Wealth, as Mr Hobbes says, is power."

(Yeah, Smith again.)


> But all too often the resources to pay a living wage exist but the market has been manipulated such that the labourer won't be able to claim that.

These are orthogonal. A fair market price simply isn't equal to the price that is required to sustain someone's living. A fair market price also is not equal to the price that could be paid (i.e. the "resources available").

The laborer whose price is raised to some arbitrary limit that is above the market rate will find demand for their labor disappear in equal measure.


"A fair market"

... does not exist.

And the market, and economy, should serve the people. Not the people the market.

"POLITICAL œconomy, considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator, proposes two distinct objects: first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or more properly to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign."

Again: Smith.

https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/smith-an-inquiry-into-the...


It's "fair (market) price", not "fair market".

> And the market, and economy, should serve the people. Not the people the market.

This is a meaningless slogan. The market is the people. Demand reflects what people need. Supply reflects what people have to offer. Prices reflect their agreement.


At this point in the game you should simply admit that whatever it is you're arguing has absolutely nothing to do with Adam Smith.

Because it doesn't.


I thought the internet would connect people who could do things together, not only to share a car or some chore, but to share company, help each other, build a network. That was the sharing economy.

If you look at tinder, this concept of finding compatible people by economic goal, interest and location is really the ideal things we want from the internet.

But instead we're back to the basics of market mechanics, profitability, jobs, consumption, comfort, and the ability to make money. It's not surprising. But I still have faith in an internet of proximity where people post ads, talk with nearby people for stuff they need or trade, instead of letting big money own how internet gets to be used.


The internet does connect people. What it can’t do is build trust. For numerous reasons, people don’t just trust other random people, so we use proxies to see if we want to take a chance on trusting someone, proxies such as location, age, gender, race, level of education, career, wealth, etc.

I don’t want to get in a car driven by some random person, I want them to be vetted by at least Uber and other Uber passengers. I don’t want to let just anyone stay in my house, I want assurance from others’ experience that the person staying won’t trash it.

People seem to value the credit rating systems.


IMO what you describe can be summarized as a UX problem. Those things are there but it takes time and effort to find them, usually hard to figure out and therefor not adoptable by the masses. It's much easier to sign up for FB and start consuming through their slick UX. This is why big money wins time and time again. This is why Bitcoin, Linux, IRC, p2p, etc never had as much of a mass breakthrough as some had hoped, and likely never will.


On the contrary, if it is a UX problem, then the Bitcoins of the world should eventually have a breakthrough if the tech is valuable, so long as the right UX can be found. It happened to IRC already (Slack). We just need more focus and investment on UX.


Fix the Developer UX of TCP/IP by surplanting it with GNUnet (Which still needs some serious improvements) & RINA (that also goes for RINA), and the rest will fall into place.


i think the "sharing" term was being pushed by marketing departments for when those companies were still small and most the clients were geeks. It's more about commoditizing life and turning everything to a service (and discovering its price), including human relationships eventually.


The chart shows Instacart receiving the most VC to date. Now there's a company with a business model completely ass-backwards (in-store isle walking), a terrible customer experience (regularly out of items you order since there's no backend integration) and disappointment all around (swapping out products for vaguely related 5x pricier ones, or arriving with about half of what you needed to make your dinner).

When that company rightfully craters, the blast zone is going to be spectacular.


The VC money will crater, everyone else will just see it disappear. Grocery stores have been trying to make this successful for decades and fail every time. It is a nice idea, but the same problems exist and aren't solved, even in this iteration. So it will fail.


"Now you can do stuff that you could already do before, but you can do it with your phone. What it takes to make that work is incredible—venture capitalists have poured $672 million combined into Wag and Rover!—but the consumer impact is small. Instead of taking a number off a bulletin board in a coffee shop and calling Eric to walk Rufus, you hit a few buttons on your phone and Eric comes over."

The above is a very cynical interpretation. What it fails to capture is the idea that incremental benefits multiplied by millions of people is a huge NET benefit to society as a whole.

An anecdote: Arrived at the airport the other day and the baggage claim was backed up by about 30 minutes. While 30 minutes is not a big deal, multiply it across the 300 hundred or so passengers on the flight, and you'll get about 6 ENTIRE HUMAN DAYS were wasted due to an operational inefficiency.

But hey, who needs uber when it only takes a few minutes to hail a cab? ;)


The weird thing about this line of thinking is that if you take it to its logical conclusions, you quickly conclude that nothing really matters anymore, because all we do is exist on this earth.

One of my early projects at Google involved latency optimization - incredibly boring, invisible stuff. At the end of the project, we'd saved maybe 20ms/search, and my boss was like "20ms/search * 3 billion searches/day = 60M seconds/day = 16K hours/day. Every day, you've saved humanity 16,000 hours of their lives."

And then I 20%'d on the PacMan doodle, which had an estimated 400 million hours of total playing time. Well, shit. There goes the next 68 years of latency optimizations.

(As an aside, this feels a lot like what Silicon Valley does. Save time on your job so you can waste it on social media, crypto gambling, or computer games. You just can't win, because there is no win condition - we'll continue to exist regardless of what we choose to do in the meantime.)


Chuckled a bit at this. The other way to interpret it is everything matters

The doodle is a net win, because it makes people happy (and they can skip it if it doesn’t). The latency makes everybody sad. You increased net happiness in the world.


Did it make them happy, or make them think it made them happy? (only said half teasingly, with thoughts of what the game industry actually optimizes)


I'd like to echo this point. People having more time to do what they want is a net benefit itself. How they choose to use that time is up to them.


“Beware the barrenness of a busy life. “ — Socrates


That's funny, but it also sounds like a cynical way of looking at your work. Once you throw in games in the "waste of time" bucket, where do you stop? Movies? Music? Drawing? etc?

20ms sounds like very little, but have you ever tried to get anything done in a place where everybody has a lax attitude towards time?


You kinda said it - lowering latency is less about saving time, it's more about saving annoyance / making the product more pleasant to use.

I might be particularly sensitive to it - I have a strong preference for low latency and tight controls in everything including cars. Ten or fifteen seconds bootup, don't care too much. I click on a browser tab and it takes 200ms to switch - ugh, is there a better browser?


That's 20ms on a good link, but on a bad one there's probably a multiplier.

Too bad all these savings are eclipsed by js cruft.


> you quickly conclude that nothing really matters anymore, because all we do is exist on this earth.

And, in some ways, it really doesn't matter, by itself. 16,000 hours. 68 years. Those are potentials, not realities. You give or waste time. But what is that time used for? Do people make any meaningful usage of it? What is meaningful?

Some will say everything is. Some nothing is. But trying to find a middle path and to keep at least some semblance of objectivity, are we making meaningful usage of our time? As a civilization, as a species, is humanity headed in any particular direction? Is it a good direction? Are we progressing?

And, more practically, if we don't have good answers to those questions, does giving people more time to waste, really matter?


>There goes the next 68 years of latency optimizations.

If you use a derivation like your boss did as the KPI, sure. But the way he did it seems like the wrong way to go about it. Would make more sense to me to think about it in terms of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bremermann%27s_limit, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_degrees_of_influence#Mor..., and gradients of computational latency. Quite literally the function call latency of the global information supply chain^Wsocial graph.

Remember: A vehicle full of people is a rolling wetware data center.


> I 20%'d on the PacMan doodle

was that a purposeful choice?


That's a silly way to evaluate utility, or at least your example is. Let's shave a minute of sleep off of everyone in the world. In just one day we will gain back 14 THOUSAND years of productivity.


Adjust it slightly perhaps: create a mechanism to help people fall asleep one minute faster on average and you buy the world XX years of waking time every day...


Sleep doesn't really work here as an analogy, because sleep itself is (probably) productive use of our time.

But on the other hand, it might not be as productive as other things we do. And we have alarm clocks to do exactly what you suggest.


If you could actually use that 1 more minute in a productive way, then yeah, that would be huge. If you're just forcing people to stay awake and stare at a wall then no that is not productive.


And that's silly because...?


We basically do that every year, and the results don't look so promising...

"Exploiting the discrete nature of DST transitions and a 2007 policy change, I estimate the impact of DST on fatal automobile crashes. My results imply that from 2002–2011 the transition into DST caused over 30 deaths at a social cost of $275 million annually."

https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/app.20140100


Do we have an estimated cost of switching away from DST? Programmer friend and I were talking today (re: Europe) and he said it'd cost a lot of money for everybody to upgrade their libraries.

I said that its a one-time cost versus those lives (I estimated 20 a transition, for 40 a year), and those lives win even with a very high return on money now.

Nobody won the debate.


I would be interested to know myself. My guess is that the cost of upgrading libraries isn't that expensive. Library maintainers probably have to change things every couple of years anyways when new countries get added or a country changes timezones. Removing DST would just be yet another change but slightly larger in scale. I would assume most of the cost would be from people assuming that DST was in effect, and as a result being late to something important.


Really? I already argued why.

one hour of time collectively is not equivalent to one minute * 60 people's time individually.

in something like packet processing maybe so. but it doesn't generalize to waiting to get your luggage checked. it's horribly inefficient to staff for peak load. that cost will be borne by all the people that come in during the average times, for no reason.

when i go to starbucks, fuck it i shouldn't have to wait in line at all. think about the 30-60s line wait (ie, waiting just to place your order) times 300 people that might come through starbucks in an hour during peak. shouldn't starbucks just hire 2 more people and have 4 more machines so that all the time spent waiting by the customer isn't wasted????


Because shaving off a minute of sleep isn't necessarily a profitable business that needs venture capital, which is the point of the article.

There is no moat in moving something from a billboard to a smartphone app, there is no obvious way in which this 'appification' industry is actually profitable or a viable business.

One particularly prominent example being moviepass. Is there some potential gain for customers in there somewhere, yes obviously but does that mean that sending you a credit card and having investors subsidize your cinema habits is a viable business or even worthy of being called 'technology'? No.


It's not a very profitable business because alarms/alarm clocks are already ubiquitous.


Because if you're gonna multiply the 1 minute gained by the world population, you should divide the extra good/services produced amongst the world population too. It comes out to.. goods/services worth 1 minute of extra productivity per person. All the stores in the world being open 1 extra minute feels like 1 extra minute of shopping time for each customer, not 14 thousand years.


In "poorer" economies service jobs are handled by servants, and the relationship is more personal and human. This could be good or bad depending on the "master". It has the potential to be better than an economic relationship, and may not be worse than an economic relationship if the "master" follows laws (or not, cf. Hong Kong domestics). In any case the gig economy is just replacing a "human master" with a "machine master".

Probably servants are better compensated too because the transaction has fewer middlemen.


> Instead of taking a number off a bulletin board in a coffee shop and calling Eric to walk Rufus, you hit a few buttons on your phone and Eric comes over.

And since you need someone to walk your dog every day during your two-week vacation, that would involve calling Eric, Margaret, Phillip and then in the middle of it coming up with Margo's number because Eric got cold.


> 6 ENTIRE HUMAN DAYS

I can't fathom the kind of constant stress one must be under to consider this a big problem.


I'm fine with this, but we must balance human efficiency and output against the well-being of the surrounding ecological systems. It can't just be about number of human hours.


"Some people like driving the long way home."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8Mc-38C88g


Blue Apron? Why is that included?

Blue Apron is Uber for... what? Aren't the boxes just delivered by ups or fedex or usps or whatever? Do they have independent contractors filling the boxes?


> Blue Apron is Uber for... what?

Measuring food into portions.


So McDonalds is Uber for cooking food?


What about the quality of service guarantees provided by Uber-for-X platforms? Both the service provider and the service consumer can see each other's social ratings and feedback on these platforms. A whole new set of customers become willing to engage with a more diverse set of service providers solely because of the quality of service guarantees (and not just convenience of the tap of a button) - AirBnB and the recently YC-launched VanGo are good examples.


Actually, shouldn't "Uber-for-X" literally be the business model? Can't you abstract away the specifics for all the verticals, and let someone quickly spin up their specific vertical in a few minutes, leveraging producer/consumer data models, social ratings, feedback, fraud detection, etc.

Any reason why each "Uber-for-X" should be it's own company with its own custom built back ends and front ends?


Now consider the next steps:

* Turn-key standing up of Uber-for-X service

* Automating provisioning and downtearing of Uber-for-X services based on economic supply & demand (Think Microservices and Heroku Dynos)

* ...doing all that as a non-profit, because once you automate that, how does the money flow, assuming an open source application?

Uh-oh.

I mean hell you could probably do half of this within a few months if you also use eTurk or something. Could even use Remote Personal Assistant services, too. Just would need a really good process model before you can start on starting with that.

Edit:

Come to think of it, what Uber-for-X companies do sound a lot like something almost completely covered by things like this sluggish monster:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frameworx

Originally developed by the biggest telcos. (Yes that is why this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3IPVWN-1ks applies to ALL carriers.)


There are a good number of companies and open source projects in that space, that help with your Uber-for-X business. A few examples below -

1. Background checks for service providers - https://checkr.com

2. Asset Tracking & Analytics - https://www.hypertrack.com/product


What about the quality of service guarantees provided by Uber-for-X platforms?

Frankly after that one time when my driver turned in reverse to face the wrong way I don't think there are any in practice and the system had been gamed a long time ago.


>>These platforms may unlock new potentials within our cities and lives. They’ve definitely generated huge fortunes for a very small number of people. But mostly, they’ve served to make our lives marginally more convenient than they were before. Like so many other parts of the world tech has built, the societal trade-off, when fully calculated, seems as likely to fall in the red as in the black.

People who work in the "servant" (aka service) industry using platforms like Uber are happy to have the opportunity.

Giving people more work options is good, not bad. This idea that letting suppliers and consumers compete in a free market leads to a "race to the bottom" is an old trope that has been around since at least the time of Marx (Marx himself claimed that free market exchange would lead to the impoverishment of workers as a result of mechanization).

The reality, as confirmed by economists and demonstrated by statistical evidence, has always been exactly the opposite: real wages have steadily increased over the last two centuries, meaning people are forced to work fewer hours to meet their basic needs, and have more time to do what they genuinely want.

Even in a perfectly free market, overcoming the challenges of organizing a complex economy to raise the standard of living is a daunting task, strewn with the carcasses of dead startups, and years of sacrifice in funding and building out businesses to test new models, and in maintaining and administering established businessses to provide people with the goods/services that let them live their lives.

We don't need to add to these difficulties with paternalistic restrictions on private property and free exchange rights motivated by bad ideas like the author's.


Employers seem to be happy for an automated performance metric of their employees. They said that it will let them provide incentives and bonuses for performing workers. I always saw it as a tool for punishing, not rewarding. Anyway, chasing rewards or running from punishment, are not what i call good living.


> The haves and the have-nots might be given new names: the demanding and the on-demand

It doesnt have to be split that way. "Living as a service" is our future, as more and more people end up living but also working on-demand instead of steady home / 8 hours. Technology was supposed to be the lubricant that would catalyze this conversion, and these startups might be just the beginning. Automation will only accelerate the trend, and in the end the platforms themselves will be commodified, because these services rely on physical proximity which inherently limits their network effects (hence why they subsidize their prices - a futile endeavor). I think attacking the model is not helping, improvement is what it needs.


Sometimes it's hard not to take a step back and wonder if the singularity has already occurred. Corporations are, in more ways than one, a form of Artificial Intelligence. They are greater than the sum of their parts, they possess attrition tolerance (i.e. any single node can be removed and the corporation will continue), and no single individual can understand the whole breadth of its execution in detail or hold it in their head. They have this almost emergent intelligence about them where corporations as a whole can decide to do things that individuals would find abhorrent. There is no one person who pushes the button. All of them who push the button as a part of this new entity that we've created.

This AI doesn't have morality and it can never have morality simply because they aren't human. Individuals have morals. Corporations have objectives. And their objective is to maximize economic utility at all costs. So they launder money for drug lords and terrorists https://www.foxnews.com/world/hsbc-knowingly-helped-mexican-... https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/hsbc-holdings-plc-and-hsbc-ba... . Knowingly kill human beings in clinical trials http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/04/02/pfizer.bextra/index.htm... . And undermine the commons to maximize their utility towards their ends.

While capitalism as a whole isn't an AI, it is an amazing computational process that has produced the greatest advancements in the standard of living in history. But the process is also similarly unmoved and lacking in human morality simply because it isn't human. It takes the route of lowest resistance and it creates to satisfy the utility function that it is computing. And that's it.

Is it a shock that these processes have exposed these vulnerabilities in our society?


> lacking in human morality simply because it isn't human.

You seem to be under the impression that humans would do the right thing. This claim is repeated without justification. In fact, the claim is ridiculous on its face because corporations are certainly human, given that they are run, operated, and staffed by human beings. Claiming them to be 'not human' is simply copping out facing the depraved reality of human existence.


except we already know that in groups, people act differently than they would individually.

the GP statement is, by that argument, strictly correct. 'composed of' humans is not the same as 'being' human.

He did go on to say, this exposes the weakness in society, which is a collection of humans.


I think you're debating semantic here. Everything can be reduced to "it's just human nature". That's not a satisfactory answer to a socio-economic system critic.

In its current state capitalism is far from what it was just 50 years ago, I don't see anything crazy about pointing out its current flaws and working on them. It'll be changed anyway, the only choice we have is to be an active part in the process or be moved by it.


Interesting perspective. I've done a lot of black-box optimization, and the first thing you learn is that it's really good at breaking your model. What happens when the fitness function is evaluated on the global economy?


Global environmental catastrophe.


Corporations aren't AI. They're just the latest human hierarchy system. It's much more complex than any human system that existed before though. If corporations don't stand by any moral values it's because our culture doesn't have strong moral values. I mean isn't the American Dream really just to get rich? If consumerism is the only value that binds our country together what can you expect from our corporations other than to make more money at any cost.

I don't want to sound too cynical. Humans are doing better than before. Royalty and Aristocracy used to justify slavery and among other horrible things. It's a long road to get to a better society, and everyone is responsible for having moral values and sticking by them. If we want life to be about more than just making money we all have to talk about it, start valuing people that do good and not make everything about money or status. We can't scapegoat this shit to "AI" it's a human problem.



This is something I have been thinking about for a while already. I am a sociologist, following Niklas Luhmann's sociological system theory and his description of modern society is very close to what you are describing. Basically he is a societies and organizations functioning with closed operations that can't be directly changed from the outside. This includes the people that for example are members of an organization. Once the system is closed it follows it's own agenda and if one person, even the CEO or the biggest shareholder or whatever, wants to change it, they are unable to determine the outcome of this change. Organization surely have their own social intelligence, which is distinctively different from individual intelligence in terms of morals, ethics etc. I have been thinking to write an essay about this, but I lack the AI knowledge, so in case you want to discuss this further, let me know


> While capitalism as a whole isn't an AI

How do you know this isn't true? That is, how are you certain that these various organizations, either alone or together, don't actually exhibit the emergent behavior of intelligence?

The prime test would be to attempt to probe for that intelligence, though exactly how would be a great question to solve.

If you survive the process, then it is likely that the answer is "no intelligence is found". It might also be that the intelligence exists, but either didn't notice you, or you don't know what to test for, or it is ignoring you.

If you don't survive the process - that is, you meet an untimely (and possibly strange) death - that might be indicative of such intelligence, and it is protecting itself.

Ask yourself this: If one of your neurons suddenly became sentient, and started to try to "poke around" and figure out if this network it is a part of is actually in fact an intelligent being - what would you do if you found this out? Would you leave it alone, as a curiosity? Or would you take action to somehow stop it?

The question is similar to figuring out the "simulation hypothesis" - just at a smaller scale...


> Is it a shock that these processes have exposed these vulnerabilities in our society?

No, not at all. The entire premise of capitalism is to exploit labor.


A singularity is by definition a superintelligence, no? A company (corporation) is just a legal structure of a bunch of people. If a company does something amazing, it's the people behind it in the company responsible -- not the company itself. Although that layer of legal separation is an opaque mapping of who-did-what from an external eye.

> capitalism as a whole isn't an AI, it is an amazing computational process that has produced the greatest advancements in the standard of living in history.

Uh, I think this claim would be hotly debated. Human innovation and curiosity -- tied with scientific knowledge that is carried forward is responsible for standard of living improvements. Things like medicine, building materials, entertainment, access and logistic improvments, yada, yada. Capitalism is just an economic system of letting the buyers and sellers decide where to allocate their funds? If you were talking about a separate measurement, like GDP, I would probably agree with you that capitalism advanced that metric.


These companies are literally small businesses. They're not about maximizing profit or utility, they're about blowing venture capital in the search of biggest fool to pay the highest price in an IPO or acquisition.

It's indicative of an era of cheap and dumb money, where FOMO is driving investment - just like before the dotcom bust.


The VCs funding these companies are about as much to blame for the "servant economy" as they are for the weather. They're a tiny piece of the computation and a minute fraction of the resources being deployed. They might be at the vanguard but they control what comes next just about as much as a surfer controls the waves. It's not their fault.

It's humanity's for not aligning the incentives of these great systems properly.


Surely they could choose to fund other companies?


There is no "servant economy" and these people are not servants. They're performing services that happen to not be well-paid, because virtually anyone can do them. You need virtually no education or skill. The "gig economy" didn't change that.


Speaking of Servants and Economics:

A while ago, I conjectured that Land Rent Theory doesn't properly factor in live-in servants, something I suspect would minorly affect the mathematics of it. By how much on a micro-scale, I can't say, but based on this an the above article, a more macro-scale-economical thought follows, on a more interesting level of abstraction than 'communal land prices':

If we consider an area a given Uber-for-X service operates in, and given that the employees there finance their living within that area by working for those companies, don't those employees then map to them effectively becoming live in-servants of the entire group living within the respective areas of operations?

You know what live in-servants used to get called in some circumstances?

If you have an immediate answer to that question, you might want to think about whatever answer you immediately had at hand for a bit and how it got there.

And if not, you might want to think very hard about which message you've failed to notice here.


This is an ambitious rhetorical style. Most of us are probably going to fail your test and not realize it. Some of us will realize that the test itself is a heads-you-win-tails-we-lose pointless exercise anyway. If you are seeking to persuade, you could be more explicit.


Slaves.

He's talking about slaves.


I was guessing "serfs."


From that angle, Uber driver is no different than anybody who has not achieved financial freedom. We all are servants to the "opeartions", with freedom to change gig but not the freedom to not work. Do you know what people call these kind of people in some circumstances? working professionals


> You know what live in-servants used to get called in some circumstances?

Are these circumstances involve free will and ability to make decisions about one's fortune or lack thereof?


Having the ability to choose between 0$ and anything more than 0$ ?


not valid when the masters can also be live-in servants for the slaves (e.g. the uber driver can hire a freelancer to build a website for him, and the freelancer can hire the driver). Right now it s usually low-paying work that gets commoditized heavily, but over time it will happen to everyone.


That's believing in the trickle down gig economy.


trickling down from whom?


Exactly.


With the conclusion, the author seems to present a good argument for the new platforms being more of an effect than a cause, but not see it. If "The inequalities of capitalist economies are not exactly news." and it was only in "...the short-lived narrowing of economic fortunes wrapped around the Second World War..." that we saw a different structure, maybe these platforms are merely the outcome of the social forces they could never be expected to control.

The inequalities of capitalist economies are not exactly news. As my colleague Esther Bloom pointed out, “For centuries, a woman’s social status was clear-cut: either she had a maid or she was one.” Domestic servants—to walk the dog, do the laundry, clean the house, get groceries—were a fixture of life in America well into the 20th century. In the short-lived narrowing of economic fortunes wrapped around the Second World War that created what Americans think of as “the middle class,” servants became far less common, even as dual-income families became more the norm and the hours Americans worked lengthened.

What the combined efforts of the Uber-for-X companies created is a new form of servant, one distributed through complex markets to thousands of different people. It was Uber, after all, that launched with the idea of becoming “everyone’s private driver,” a chauffeur for all.

An unkind summary, then, of the past half decade of the consumer internet: Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance.

These platforms may unlock new potentials within our cities and lives. They’ve definitely generated huge fortunes for a very small number of people. But mostly, they’ve served to make our lives marginally more convenient than they were before. Like so many other parts of the world tech has built, the societal trade-off, when fully calculated, seems as likely to fall in the red as in the black.


"An unkind summary, then, of the past half decade of the consumer internet: Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance."

"Unkind"? How would we make it less "unkind"?

Half-decade?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MyLackey.com


One day my friends and I were walking in downtown Seattle. Looking up we saw a huge billboard that simply said, "MyLackey.com". What an asinine, tone-deaf, elitist, heartless yet honest name we thought[1].

Later we learned one of the founders was Brian McGarvey, someone we had worked with in a prior startup. His idea was to take Kozmo.com[2] up a notch. It exemplified the dot-com boom, and now Facebook, Uber, and much of Silicon Valley then and today: get rich quick, fuck humanity.

---

[1] Much the same way Trump's election is America being honest with itself.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kozmo.com


Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance.

Spot on.


Based on that chart, I should have invested in Gone Inc.


"An unkind summary, then, of the past half decade of the consumer internet: Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance."

The whole "rich vs poor divide" angle is nonsense. Like the article admits, all of these services were available before, but now they have the form of an app. The money goes to develop and advertise the whole show (creating jobs), but also to subsidize the labor. In effect, these services are more affordable than before. Uber is cheaper than a Taxi. Having your groceries delivered can be cheaper than doing it yourself, even if you earn small.

All that venture capital comes from the rich and goes into the pockets of those who aren't rich. It's dumb money, the same kind that made pets.com (a ludicrous business) go to a 100 million dollar market cap. As soon as that capital dries up, these shops will close down, or raise prices. They will never make their money back, because nobody will be able to maintain a monopoly on a service that almost anyone can perform. That's also why the labor itself will stay cheap, no matter who the middleman is. It's not like these jobs were highly lucrative before all these capitalists walked in.


Uber wasn't available before Uber. Taxis were available, but those are very different things. It really is a job platform designed to take advantage of people who need multiple jobs, and surprise surprise, there's a slew of 'em here. It simply wouldn't work in a country that did not have such huge wealth disparity.


Neither would fast food. Is Uber worse than Taco Bell? You can ignore nutritional atrocities if you like...


Taxis aren't very different things at all. That's why in many countries, Uber has been banned. They're regarded as taxis circumventing taxi regulations.

> It really is a job platform designed to take advantage of people who need multiple jobs, and surprise surprise, there's a slew of 'em here.

Any job offer is taking advantage of the fact that people aren't magical self-sufficient entities. There's nothing wrong with offering a job, nobody is forcing anyone to take it.

> It simply wouldn't work in a country that did not have such huge wealth disparity.

Wealth disparity has nothing to do with it. Uber prices are set by supply and demand. In some countries, Uber may need to pay more to attract drivers - and raise prices as a result.


See, this is the problem, nobody understands what Uber is.

It's a platform for turning random unskilled people with cars into a cheap, temporary, on-demand labor force. You don't have to invest in a vehicle fleet, you don't have to train anyone, you don't have to pay for medallions. You just grab a random yo-yo with a vehicle and a clean driving record and they start making you cash.

You can't do that with a Taxi. For a Taxi there's a huge capital, personnel, and operational investment. To become a NYC Taxi driver, you need:

An application, an $84 licensing fee, a $75 fingerprinting fee, criminal background check, $15 copy of state driving record, no outstanding traffic or parking tickets or child support payments (??), a medical examination [you pay for], a $26 drug test, a six-hour $50 defensive driving course, attend taxi school (24 to 80 hours, $125 to $325), $25 English written and spoken proficiency test (optional $20 prep test), and a $60 wheelchair accessible vehicle training course. For the license you may have to memorize lots of information about your municipality. Only half of license test takers pass. You can join a company and earn 2/3 your fare per day minus fuel costs, or rent a cab for ~$100/day plus fuel. If passengers pay by card you may pay up to 10% in fees. You may have to carry general liability even if your cab company insures you.

Or you can become an Uber driver if you have a new car, insurance, and a clean record.

To make money with a Taxi, you need to drive around 10-12 hours 5 days a week, ideally at peak hours. The base rate is around $10 an hour, but if you get good you can make double that. Tips can make up to 40% of income. Based on this, you can make minimum wage or higher.

With Uber, you drive when you want. But you can't drive an unlimited amount. So if you're doing this to support a family, you have to drive both Uber and Lyft and maybe work another job or two on the side. It's expected that this won't be your only job. You have to already be investing tens of thousands of dollars in a vehicle, and also already have other income.

This kind of driver never existed before. Someone who is partially wealthy, but needs more cash, but doesn't have time to go job-hunting and find part time work. Someone who never would have driven for a Taxi company, but will take their own car and time to make odd trips around the city for hours at a time. A non-Taxi driver who will do Taxi-like things.

So what's new is the Uber driver herself. She only exists now because she was formerly lower-middle class, and now she needs 3 jobs to support herself. It's the platform designed for the widening wage gap. And it is horrifying that that's where our economy is now: a slow, steady erosion of economic security for more and more of the country.


> You just grab a random yo-yo with a vehicle and a clean driving record and they start making you cash.

Uber has been losing money ever since its inception, so it's clearly not making them so much cash.

> For a Taxi there's a huge capital, personnel, and operational investment.

Maybe in the U.S. with all its regulation.

> To become a NYC Taxi driver, you need...

Who cares? Taxis aren't all the same worldwide, they're still taxis. An unregulated/unlicensed taxi is still a taxi.

> You have to already be investing tens of thousands of dollars in a vehicle, and also already have other income.

If it's really such a sucker's game, people can just stop doing it.

> So what's new is the Uber driver herself. She only exists now because she was formerly lower-middle class, and now she needs 3 jobs to support herself.

If she needs three jobs to support herself maybe she'll prefer having the choice of working for Uber over not having it. Her situation is neither Uber's fault nor responsibility.


Mark my words, this is one of those tech articles that in 10 years will seem laughably outdated (not that anyone will remember this article in 10 years). It creates a false equivalency between the services that existed before and those that exist through the so-called "gig economy".

But this part of the ending really bothered me:

> Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work ... while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance.

In general, there has been a remarkable lack of privacy or security violations by the so-alled "gig economy" companies. The author seems to be conflating the previous generation of information-only companies like Facebook and Google with gig economy companies like Uber. For all its ills, Uber does not get enough credit for the fact that it does not sell or otherwise distribute the customer's data for money. Instead it provides a service in exchange for pay. The information customers provide to Uber stays with Uber, which cannot be said of Facebook, Instagram, Google, LinkedIn or just about any other information-only tech company.

That the author chooses to end his article with a factually ignorant statement about surveillance reveals a how devoid of substance the rest of the article turns out to be.




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